I’m pretty sure the little-known draft version of the Buddha’s First Noble Truth went like this: Relationships are suffering. Then, the impulse to generalize that visits all teachers overtook him, and, well … you know the rest.
Intimate relations, especially, can be a crucible, though the result of the alchemy is hard to predict. Lovers who are self-aware and courageous may emerge from the heat and pressure not only stronger as a couple but better as individuals, wiser and more compassionate. But often we simmer and stew, boiling off the potential goodness until all that is left is a distasteful emotional sludge. And then we walk away.
In the aftermath of a particularly vexing break-up, it is tempting to conduct tedious postmortems of the deceased relationship. At such times, I sometimes find myself playing Pin the Pathology on the Ex. Especially in that trying-to-figure-out-what-went-wrong stage, it is seductive and strangely satisfying to ruminate on your ex’s probable failings: sociopathy, narcissism, ADHD or some other mental ailment that brought your relationship to ruin.
The amusing part of this is that your ex is likely doing the same about you. Unless, of course, s/he is actually a sociopath, a narcissist or has ADHD, in which case, s/he:
a) is plotting to poison your pets
b) has quickly moved on to someone more worthy of his/her magnificence, or
c) has already forgotten you, having not really noticed you in the first place
If you are not inclined to blame your ex, perhaps you do the opposite, crucifying yourself for what you failed to do, or did wrong. Or maybe you’re an emotional switch-hitter, alternating between blame and remorse.
This is exhausting and utterly pointless. But at least for a time, it provides a solace we want desperately: a Story of the Break-up to fill the void left by the Story of the Love. Eventually, if we have any sense, we do ourselves and each other the kindness of acknowledging an enduring truth of human relationships: As mysteries we meet, and as mysteries we part.
It is helpful to consider the words of venerable Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah, memorable for their sagacity about chickens as well as the nature of impermanence:
“You say, ”Don’t break my glass!” Can you prevent something that’s breakable from breaking? If it doesn’t break now, it will break later on. If you don’t break it, someone else will. If someone else doesn’t break it, one of the chickens will! … Whenever you use this glass you should reflect that it’s already broken. [See] the broken glass within the unbroken one. Whenever its time is up, it will break. Develop this kind of understanding: Use the glass, look after it, until, one day, it slips out of your hand.”
We do well to remember this: The most promising beginning holds within itself an ending. The glass is already broken.